IB Diploma Programme-Unpacking the gold standard in education

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As a parent, perhaps one of the most important decisions we make for our children is the right school for them. One of the key criteria in that choice is the qualification that the school offers in high school. There are mainly 3 routes to choose from - International Baccalaureate Diploma (IBDP), American Advanced Placement (AP), and the British A Levels. These tracks can be quite confusing especially for parents who perhaps have not accessed either of these qualifications when they were in high school. 

We hope to address some of your questions on the IB Diploma as we speak to Alec Jiggins, Former Principal at EtonHouse International School, Orchard. Alec is not only an IB Consultant and Council of International Schools (CIS) team member but has also led the Orchard campus to its IB Diploma authorisation. 

You can listen to the podcast here where Bipasha Minocha (Group Brand and Marketing Director) does a deep dive into the IB Diploma programme with Alec. 

Bipasha: Before we begin, we’d like to offer our heartiest congratulations to Alec and the entire team at Orchard for the fabulous achievement on the IB authorisation. Well done!

Alec: We’re really happy. There’s been a boom in the community, the parents, the students, and the staff are absolutely thrilled particularly to achieve it in such a short span of time and with such a positive rapport. It really has brought the year to an end in a nice way. 

Bipasha: The community spirit in the school was very evident in the report despite the fact that a lot of the IB visits were done virtually (due to the pandemic). 

Alec: It was very nice to receive the feedback particularly because the visitors did the authorisation via video conferencing as they were unable to visit us. They were able to pick up on the warmth of the community, they noticed the bonds that existed just through the screen. One comment they mentioned, in particular, was ‘it takes a village to educate a child’ and they could really feel that coming from the school. There was a real cohesion between the parents, students and the staff in understanding what was required and working together in embracing the IB philosophy. That comment out of the many we received really resonated with me because it speaks volumes about our philosophy at EtonHouse.

Bipasha: The IB authorisation process took place over 2 years. EtonHouse Orchard started in 2018 and is now an IB World School in 2020. It has been quite a journey indeed!

Today’s podcast is primarily to support families- students as well as parents to make decisions with regards to their high school qualification and as well as some of the more deeper questions they may have regarding the IB Diploma.  

Bipasha: Alec could you share with us an overview of the IB Diploma in general?

Alec: It is really important for parents and students listening to understand that the IB isn’t for the academically elite, as it is sometimes written about in the media or in certain blog articles. The IB Diploma is a programme that is accessible to all. EtonHouse by its very philosophy is very much inclusion-driven, we want students from different backgrounds and we chose the programme because it offers that. Students with different levels of language acquisition and different backgrounds can be successful at IB Diploma and that’s what makes it such a great programme because we can tailor it to fit each individual student. 

When you think about the IB Diploma, there is a central part- the core. It is made up of 3 elements.

  1. Theory of knowledge- students get to investigate how they learn, how they understand things and where their knowledge comes from as well as certain vices that develop when they are learning.
  2. Creativity, action and service- they investigate needs in their local community and design ways to serve their community in a creative way, helping to address those needs. For example, working in a soup kitchen or helping out at young people’s homes.
  3. Extended student essay- a research project where they get to design and investigate something that is of interest to them, then develop that into a piece of academic writing. It is very similar to an undergraduate degree so it’s already given them the skills, abilities and independent learning that makes them so successful at universities. 

With the actual subject that sits around that core, we have two languages, a first and a second language. Amongst which we offer English, Mandarin, Japanese and Spanish in those subject areas. We then move into the Humanities Block where we have Economics, Business Management, Geography and History.

In our Science Block, we have Sports Science, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. We then have our Mathematics Block as well as Block 6 which is the Arts Block where we offer Visual Arts. For those students who are thinking of a career that is more mathematically or engineering-oriented, they wouldn’t have to study a subject in Block 6. They can choose to study Additional Science. For those students who are thinking perhaps a career in Law or Humanities, they can use an additional subject from that block as well. 

Bipasha: Does it give them a lot more depth than breadth in terms of skills, competence and knowledge?

It does because it touches across the different academic realms. The students really do develop, first of all, the breadths- they are able to carry on post-16 in Mathematics and Science wherein other programmes they would stop that and they also get the depths because the high-level subjects are 240 hours of study class and the standard subjects are 180 hours. So each student will choose 3 subjects to focus on for higher level and 3 subjects to focus on for standard level. On top of all those hours of study, there is also independent research and homework so they are getting a very deep grounding in each of those subjects and also the breadth of the whole curriculum that’s offered.

Bipasha: The subject choices, considering there are so many, when do you reckon is the right time to start thinking about them?

Alec: A lot of research has been done on careers conversations at home. The earlier you start opening your child’s mind to what is possible for their future such as visiting universities and seeing people at work, it starts to generate in a child more aspirations about what they are capable. They start to see possibilities and that then leads to conversations in school.

We start in Year 6, the Primary School, talking to students about what kind of things they like to do, if they’d like to be part of a team or work independently. Not mentioning careers alone but getting them to talk about their preferred styles.

For Secondary, we use a variety of tools. One of which is an online platform called Fast Tomato where they get to answer online quizzes about their preference and that guides them on their careers. We also have a career guidance counsellor who offers them advice and talks to them about what they prefer.

As they move up into IGCSE, that then starts to influence their choices and our IGCSE is very much mapped through the IB Diploma model so there is a natural progression for the students from IGCSE into the IB Diploma. In the IB Diploma, there is a real focus on working closely with the careers counsellor and getting those applications and transcripts ready for application to universities. 

Bipasha: Before you make your choices regarding the IB Diploma, you also have the IGCSE for your Secondary level examinations. How do choices connect between the 2 qualifications?

Alec: The IGCSE is an excellent bridging programme into the IB Diploma. A lot of the concepts and topics that are covered in each of the subjects in the IGCSE are then built on in the IB Diploma.

For example the Business Studies in IGCSE, students do a unit on Marketing. That then is where the Business Management course of IB is built upon. The fact that they come from an IGCSE background gives them a far better base to move into the IB Diploma, which is why the conversations around careers with the students as they are choosing their IGCSEs with their parents are so important because they are starting to build their pathway. It’s not to say that they can’t change their choice at IB Diploma but they can get the choices that best fit them earlier than they have a far stronger base that moves them through the school. 

Bipasha: Will some of the content that’s covered in the IGCSE subjects be covered in the IB Diploma coursework?

Alec: Yes, in more depth. The IB Diploma touches on each of the topics but in far more depth. For example, in Business Management, there is a real emphasis on case study development so they are able to apply the knowledge to a real business environment, so students can investigate the success of a business or why businesses fail, thus applying their knowledge in a very practical way. 

Bipasha: How does the IB Diploma help with university applications?

Alec: Because of the structure of the IB Diploma where students are not just focusing on the academic subjects but also the core, universities see the value in how it prepares the students for IB Diploma as independent learners ready for university. The students have already experienced the need to be organised and demonstrated their ability to produce a 4000-word piece of writing which is very similar to the thesis that they will produce at university. They have demonstrated through the IB Diploma as well as the connection to their community which more and more universities are looking at: ‘beyond the academics, what else does the student bring to me?’. Some students have more of an artistic or scientific background, some students really focus on community service. So universities are looking for these well-rounded global citizens as they are going through the application process. The IB Diploma gives our students that. 

Bipasha: Within the IB, are there other tracks that students can access other than the Diploma?

Alec: If the student and their family feel that the IB Diploma isn’t the right fit for them in terms of the whole range of subjects, then students are able to choose individual subjects and they get an IB Diploma certificate. That certificate generates a certain number of points for their entrance to university. There is flexibility within the IB curriculum model for students. 

Bipasha: Would you like to share any advice for students as well as their families on how to be successful in the IB Diploma?

Alec: I’ve been an IB teacher and an IB head now and even an inspector for IB schools for 16 years and the number one trait I would say to be successful is organisation and really choosing subjects that you are passionate about because you’re going to be studying them for 2 years, you really have to do a lot of work outside of school to get the most out of your subjects and to arrive at lessons with questions that stimulate discussions that engages the class and teachers. That requires discipline at home to do your reading, catch up on your notes. I would say that half of the success of an IB diploma comes from being committed and disciplined in your study approach.  

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